10 Networking Predictions For 2010

The year in networking was full of surprises and plenty of drama, with everything from major mergers and acquisitions to the emergence of more channel opportunity in areas like video and mobile.

The excitement was everywhere, from the ever-blustery Cisco channel on down. Does anyone in his or her right mind expect 2010 to be any calmer? Certainly not. But we can at least hope for some return to growth and new opportunities, of which, if Channelweb.com's 10 predictions for the networking space pan out, there will plenty. Here's a look at what we're seeing.

Every major networking vendor has a data center play these days -- from Cisco and its Unified Computing System on down -- and things like network monitoring and network security are also playing crucial roles, with companies like NetOptics and Palo Alto Networks trying to change the rules of the game for each of those segments. What's a solution provider to do?

For starters, get equipped. With networking and the data center converging and new opportunities -- cloud included -- springing up all the time around convergence, networking, unified communications, mobility, security and other pieces of the game, a solution provider that can deliver true convergence solutions is going to be in high demand, and in 2010, higher demand than ever. Even VARs that don't do more than networking, or security, or storage and servers can locate big moneymaking opportunities in services around the data center. Those who adapt best will triumph most.

Data center strategies are so 2009. Well, OK, maybe that's not true, but if there's a buzzword in networking -- in technology, really -- for 2010, it's cloud. Whether next year will be the "year of the cloud" as some would have it is a matter of debate, but companies like Cisco, HP, IBM and other tech giants aren't sitting around waiting for cloud to come to them.

Cisco is one of many vendors who in 2009 began to articulate a cloud strategy, and as it continues its acquisitions tear into the new year, may be in the market for the types of small cloud companies IDC Chief Research Officer John Gantz recently called ripe for the plucking.

For solution providers, it means paying attention and looking at the ways cloud and cloud-service models are going to both help and hurt their businesses. At the Raymond James IT Supply Chain conference this month, Ingram Micro CEO Greg Spierkel was among those who took a decidedly optimistic view on cloud.

"We think there are ways we can be involved," he said of the two-tier distribution model's relationship to cloud. "And we're learning."

At the end of 2008, we predicted unified communications would finally solidify in 2009. That's a prediction we still stand behind despite the effects of a recession economy doing its best to keep UC growth down. But look closer. UC has still continued to grow this year, and the most recent data from Dell'Oro Group suggested that the UC market grew in sales volume during the third quarter of 2009.

Brighter days ahead? Absolutely. Everyone from Cisco to Alcatel-Lucent to Avaya has a strong UC strategy these days, and vendors who previously specialized elsewhere, such as Adtran, are now entering the UC space for the first time. With the competition heating up, the best vendors and VARs for UC will be those that understand a UC platform is about choice. In other words, VARs, dial up the services offerings and customize, customize, customize.

Look right, look left, look down and look out: The opportunities for mobility in the channel are at an all-time high. What's new is that a number of smaller, specialty vendors have also dived headlong into things like mobile applications and health-care mobility solutions in hopes of using the channel to grow business.

Vocera, for example, has tapped into a wellspring of health-care opportunity thanks to its Vocera Badge instant voice communication system. Or, take Appcelerator, which is building a channel for developers and systems integrators alike on the idea that developing apps for various mobile platforms shouldn't be as cumbersome as it currently is. Rest assured there'll be more of these types of companies trying to tap into all the excitement around mobile devices -- and that channel opportunity will be front-of-mind for the smarter ones.

Speaking of health care, is there a hotter vertical opportunity for networking and infrastructure specialists out there? Consider the rush to implement electronic medical records (EMR) systems that are both interoperable and secure. Then consider the back-end infrastructure needed to ensure that interoperability and security: data center improvements, video platforms, security software, wireless, the whole ball of wax. Let's just say there's a reason why networking vendors like Trapeze Networks have organized new channel programs around health care, networking-savvy distributors like Westcon Group have made health care a prime focus, and video-enablement providers like Glowpoint name telemedicine as one of their best opportunities.

Health care oriented VARs who can speak the language of hospitals, HIEs and physician practices -- and deliver networking, infrastructure, UC and mobility solutions that meet the needs of those settings -- will thrive in 2010.

Google's communications strategy took shape in 2009, and while no one's ready to say that Google is a disruptive force that could change the way you think about communications and telephony ... OK, wait, well, maybe Google is a disruptive force that could change the way you think about communications and telephony.

Keep an eye on Google. Even if the Google Android OS, the Google Voice application and other new Google interests don't find their way into the enterprise IT channel immediately, Google has proven time and time again that it can't be counted out. For anything.

Every vendor in networking not named Cisco has its anti-Cisco rhetoric down pat. There is Aruba, touting itself as the true alternative to Cisco in 802.11n wireless; or Avaya, which gains more leverage against Cisco thanks to what it stands to absorb through Nortel; or Digium, which has won converts to its open-source Asterisk VoIP portfolio from many old Cisco hands; or HP, which in its planned purchase of 3Com gains a number of product lines, such as voice and some small business products, that it can leverage for new competition.

With Cisco continuing to dominate the channel in so many networking categories -- but faltering in the eyes of some partners who say that its focus on expansion and rivalry with HP is hurting its channel and further eroding ever-thinner margins -- watch for every Cisco rival out there to continue to hype the arguments that alternatives are not only available, but needed. Are they right? That's for VARs to decide.

Cisco hears the anti-Cisco rhetoric. It hears everything. It smiles and nods and tells us time and time again it's not focused on the competition, it's focused on serving its customers. If you believe that, we have a bridge to sell you.

Cisco is undoubtedly ambitious, and John Chambers has acknowledged no less than 30 markets -- he calls them "adjacencies" -- that will help grow Cisco into that much more of a powerhouse. An acquisitions streak largely unbroken since 1993 will no doubt continue into next year, and one look at some of the big acquisitions Cisco's made in 2009 and in recent years tells you that it's heading in all directions. Data center? Check. Small business? Wanted. Energy and smart grid? You betcha. Consumer? Sure thing, dude.

The only thing that would really be surprising about Cisco in 2010 is if it stops -- even for a minute -- to catch its breath.

Video and telepresence have reached critical mass in terms of opportunity for solution providers, and it isn't just hardware and basic UC deployments anymore. What's next? Video enablement services, video optimization and anything that can make video run smoother, faster, better and more beautifully. Take Glowpoint, for example. Glowpoint offers 24/7 video management service assistance to Fortune 500 enterprises, service providers, health-care facilities and midmarket customers alike. Is there a channel play there? Most definitely. Video-as-a-service we'll call it, and you'll be hearing more about it. Often.

Every new year finds several companies that bear watching with fresh eyes, whether they're established businesses getting a new coat of channel paint, once-faltering companies poised to bounce back, or new or upstart players poised to gain market share in the coming months. Here are five.

Avaya: Avaya's completed acquisition of Nortel's enterprise unit means a potential networking channel powerhouse. It could also mean a disastrous blending -- and diluting -- of two channel programs. Partners will get a taste of what's to come when Avaya rolls out a new Avaya-Nortel product road map in January.

Siemens: Siemens' Enterprise Communications Group is looking to rebuild its indirect strategy under new channel chief Denzil Samuels and CEO Hamid Akhavan. There's a lot of opportunity for them if they can.

Ruckus Wireless: Ruckus is making a bold push upmarket to expand beyond its SMB wireless bread and butter. And guess what? It's working: The company's adding channel partners, updating its channel program and earning converts left and right.

Digium: Digium, which has designed a hot product line around the Asterisk open-source VoIP platform, finally has channel strength to push itself to the next level. The buzz on them has never been stronger.

Westcon Group: The specialty distributor notched a big milestone this year by adding its first server -- related to Cisco's UCS -- to its line card. Is Westcon going to start looking more like its bigger rivals and become a true data center player to go along with its security, convergence and networking practices?